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Business: 5 Steps to Becoming a Business Analyst

Business: 5 Steps to Becoming a Business Analyst

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You might be asking, “How do I become a business analyst?” In what follows, I’ll help you discover where you are along the typical transition path as well as address some of the most common special circumstances that tend to come up from aspiring business analysts.

Before I forget, I want to be sure you know about my step-by-step BA career planning course (it’s free) that’s designed to help you, the mid-career professional, kick-start your business analysis career. The course will help you dig deeper into each of the concepts outlined below. You’ll also want to be sure to download the Business Analyst Career Roadmap as it will give you a visual guide and alternate paths through the 5 steps.

With that out of the way, onward with the 5 steps!

Step 1 – Learn about Business Analysis and Confirm Your Career Choice

As with entering any profession, building knowledge of business analysis is an important part of your career change. And there are several ways to accumulate enough knowledge to be successful. You can read the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge®, though I recommend that those new to the profession choose a more accessible text. The BABOK is amazing, but it’s not written to be accessible by aspiring business analysts…it’s written to be a reference guide for working business analysts. The Software Requirements Memory Jogger or my book, How to Start a BA Career, are good alternatives.

Becoming knowledgeable about the role of the business analyst is only the first step. The biggest mistake I see is that many aspiring BAs spend way too much time here, neglecting the realities of the next 4 steps. Alternatively, I see a lot of professionals get over-invested in business analysis only to discover the career is not a good fit for them. That’s why I recommend learning just enough to determine if business analysis is the right career choice for you.

Check out my 42 Reasons to Start a Business Analyst Career and The First 5 Signs that Business Analysis is the Career Choice for You for some clarity on whether or not you’ve found the right fit.

Even if these checklists confirm you are on the right track, you might still not be 100% sure. A second and more concrete litmus test is to practice some BA techniques to get a feel for the role.  We’ll speak to this specifically in Step 4, so keep please reading.
Step 2 – Identify Your Transferable Skills and Leverage Points to Develop Your Positioning

As a mid-career professional, you most likely qualify for a subset of BA jobs already. (Don’t be frustrated by only qualifying for a subset – even the most experienced BAs do not qualify for all BA jobs.) Many professionals I work with are able to skip right past entry-level BA positions by identifying their transferable skills and the unique qualifications from their career backgrounds. You may also be able to open up opportunities within a slice of business analysis or in a transitional role.

Transferable skills come from experiences using business analysis techniques in a non-BA role. Michelle Swoboda shares a process for translating your skills into business analysis. And here, I share 3 real examples of transferable skills.

Whether or not you have a deep career history in business analysis, it’s likely that one or more elements of your career history give you expertise to leverage into business analysis. Whether it’s your knock-your-socks off communication skills or your deep experience in a relevant industry domain, you have a quality that potential managers are specifically hiring for.

If you are currently employed in a company that employs BAs, then your most valuable leverage point very well could be knowledge of that individual organization, the business model, and the business stakeholders.

Other factors can include:

    Industry domain experience (Read about how industry expertise can impact your job search)
    Application expertise (Read about how system knowledge helped me qualify for my first BA position)
    Expertise in a specific process area, such as HR or finance
    Expertise in a broad set of functional areas or a broad collection of organizations

(You might be thinking this step doesn’t apply to you. I’ve worked with many, many mid-career professionals on their career transition plans and we’ve always been able to find at least one transferable skill and career experience. More often, we’ve discovered several transferable skills and relevant experiences. Our BA career planning course walks you through this process in more detail.  And my Fast Track to a BA Career course provides you with the opportunity to receive my personal advice on your exact career situation.)

After discovering your transferable skills and leverage points, this is a good time to update your business analyst resume to showcase how your past experience qualifies you for roles within or close to business analysis.

Step 3 – Get Tangible Feedback by Putting Out Feelers

Once you’ve built up your confidence in your career choice and your business analysis skills, it’s time to get some real, tangible feedback. This could mean sharing your career goals with your manager and asking for more opportunities to practice BA techniques. It might also mean circulating your resume to a few recruiters or applying to a few business analyst jobs. (What you do in this step will depend heavily on what path you are taking through the Roadmap.)

The point of this exercise is not necessarily to find the opportunity (though if that happens for you right off the bat, that’s a lucky bonus), but to get feedback about how your career goals are perceived by those that work with you or are in a position to hire you.

You may be surprised to learn that a specific skill is extremely marketable and can provide an entryway into a business analyst role. Or you might be given some ideas for strengthening your positioning even further. Which leads us to the next step.
Step 4 – Approach Your Work with a BA Mindset and Strengthen Your Positioning

As part of the analysis you did in step 2, you may have discovered some gaps. Add these to your professional development plan and explore opportunities to fill them through volunteer positions  or by building on-the-job business analyst experiences. What we see is that one business analysis task tends to lead to another, creating a virtuous cycle of new business opportunities and expanded experience.

Practice techniques such as:

  1.     improving a business process
  2.     facilitating meetings
  3.     crafting use cases
  4.     scoping projects with these 5 questions
  5.     eliciting information

Not getting the response you were hoping for from these exercises? Here are 3 things your boss needs to hear you say before they’ll let you take on new job responsibilities.

And if you have doubts, read Kimberley Heath’s success story about how she created a BA volunteer opportunity for herself and what she learned from the experience, or my story about how I got noticed for on-the-job opportunities by relentlessly getting myself invited to meetings and actively participating in any way I could.

As you a cultivate a BA mindset, you’ll find that business analysis begets business analysis. Once you see your first opportunity, several more sprout up right in front of you. Is a virtuous circle that can lead you to a full-fledged business analysis role, step-by-step.

Still feel stuck? Check out Adrian Reed’s 5 tips for breaking the vicious cycle of no experience = no BA job.
Step 5 – Focus Your Efforts to Find Your First BA Opportunity

In time, you may qualify for a business analysis role in your organization or be in a position to propose a business analyst role in your firm. But not all job situations provide the same opportunities. Some BAs find themselves looking outside their organization for their first BA jobs. If that’s you, you’ll want to read more about our business analyst job search process.

And if your transferable skills assessment came up a bit short, you may need to explore a transitional role to lead you on the path to BA. Here we address what a future BA can learn from a technical analyst role.  And Adrian Reed provides a few selected roles that can lead to business analyst jobs.

This is important. As you proceed forward, it’s very easy to get caught in a rut of expending a lot of effort in activities that aren’t actually moving you closer to your goal. Do a regular check-in against these 7 signs you are making progress towards a BA career and be sure to celebrate your interim successes.
>>Plan Your Next Step with a Free Course

While this is a lot of information, you might be wondering exactly what steps you can take. We offer a free step-by-step BA career planning course that will help you figure out your next step.

Yes, Buts

You might be thinking that these steps don’t apply to you because {fill in the blank here}. I’ve corresponded with hundreds of aspiring business analysts as part of my virtual courses and helped many successfully make this transition (just check out our list of career transition stories) and so I know this process works.

What follows is a list of concerns that most commonly come up and how to address them.

But what if I’m unemployed?

If you are unemployed, focus your efforts on step 2 and use the results of this analysis to update your resume and strengthen your positioning for BA jobs. If you are still not able to qualify for a small slice of business analysis roles and your timeline to find a job is short, refocus your job search on transitional roles. If your timeline is longer, you may consider investing in step 4 as a volunteer.

But what if I just graduated from college with a degree in business analysis?

If you are a recent college grad, you can still use these steps. In any given location, there are often a select few organizations that actively recruit recent college graduates into BA roles. Find them. If you worked through college or actively leveraged internship opportunities, you may have adequate experience to invest some time in step 2 and qualify yourself for a role requiring 2-3 years of experience. (For more information on how this works, read Eric Watrakiewicz’s transition story - he landed a BA job just 7 months out of college.) If neither of these options works out for you, consider investing a few years in a transitional role working your way towards a business analysis, particularly focusing on step 4 above, and then working your way back through the 5 steps.

Unfortunately, many claims made by colleges and universities that their degrees qualify you for business analysis jobs right out of college simply do not hold true. That doesn’t mean your education isn’t valuable – it is. It helps you know what to do in step 4. But it also means it could take you a few years to get to the job you really want.

But I’m an MBA, can’t I skip these steps?

No. Your MBA might give you an extra edge in your positioning, but it’s not a silver bullet into business analysis. If you participated in real-world projects as part of your MBA, then analyze those using step 2. And also be sure to heavily leverage the professional network you built during your MBA as part of your job search in step 5.

If you pursued your MBA right after your bachelor’s, refer to my answer above. If you pursued your MBA mid-career, be sure to go through all 5 steps as it’s likely you have a lot of experience to draw from. And ask your employer for opportunities to apply your MBA and build relevant professional experiences (see step 4).

But what about business analysis training?

Good question. Training is a means to an end. Training is relevant if it helps you achieve the results from one of the 5 steps. Training itself is not going to help you become a business analyst. That’s why all my business analysis training courses are action-based, meaning you take concrete steps towards your BA career goal while you participate in the program.

But what about certificates and certifications?

First, be sure you understand the difference between certificates and certifications. If after completing step 2, you realize you have 2 ½+ years of experience or more, pursuing an IIBA certification could help strengthen your positioning significantly, but like an MBA, a certification is not a silver bullet, just an extra edge. Check out Adriana Beal’s article on whether or not the CBAP is right for you to help make your decision. If you decide to pursue your CBAP or CCBA, here’s 8 Steps to the CBAP that will help you plan out your certification process.

When it comes to a training company-specific certificate, it’s the training behind the certificate that matters most, not the certificate itself. Refer to my answer to the previous question.

But what if I don’t have IT skills and experience?

You don’t need them! If you are going to be a BA on an IT project, you will need a technical understanding. Here’s a post describing the difference and why we see technical skills in BA jobs.

But what if I don’t have business domain expertise?

Business domain expertise is a leverage point and many aspiring BAs are very successful at leveraging expertise in a particular domain to find their first BA position. But if you don’t have expertise in a particular domain, it doesn’t mean that you can’t become a BA, it just means that you need to focus on the opportunities where business domain expertise is not such an important qualification. At times this can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. But believe me, the opportunities are there. Keep working away at step 4 and putting your feelers out. An opportunity will surface for you.

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